Having served at NYU for 42 years—as faculty member, dean, vice president, chancellor, and president (from 1991 to 2002)—L. Jay Oliva touched the lives of so many who studied, taught, and worked throughout NYU and beyond. Below are some special memories from those who knew him well.
Jill N. Claster
Professor Emerita in History
Former Dean, College of Arts and Science
“In addition to his charisma, his amazing intellect, and his administrative gifts, Jay had a gift for friendship that I was the recipient of for 40 years. He was my good, good friend and my wonderful mentor.
When, at Jay's encouragement, I became dean of the College of Arts and Science, I met frequently with Jay. One of the first times I remember vividly, I had made a mistake that I was convinced was lethal. Jay had known all about it and when I asked him how he had known he said, "Because, Jill, I am swimming in the water with you, but out of your sight, and I am watching, and I am with you."
Senior Associate Director for Athletics
“Somehow, for me, and for so many of us, he was our personal agent, mentor, provider, and fan. During my time as the Head Coach of NYU Women's Basketball, there was no confusion: We played for Dr. Oliva. We played for his vision of excellence. We played for his vision of what NYU could be. We named complex zone offensive plays after him. We won a National Championship for him.
Through it all, you always knew where to find him. When he was the chancellor or the president of the world's largest private University, you always knew how to find him on game day, because he was “Under the Hoop”—a group he personally created and named to help increase community and support for NYU student-athletes. And as those stands filled up during a game, he knew the name of every single student who crowded to that special section of the bleachers to watch with him. To this day, it is the only place I ever sit to watch NYU play. God Bless Dr. Oliva. We truly love him."
Former NYU Provost and Vice Chancellor
“I was fortunate to have known Jay for almost 30 years. I guess it was his genuine affection for NYU that seemed to bring out the best in all of us around him. From getting flags on NYU buildings, to teaching his Russian history courses, to promoting community spirit with faculty senators, AMC reps, student senators, alumni reps, trustees, and parents—he never seemed to tire. Whether at a basketball game at Coles or at a dinner welcoming new faculty, his sense of the almost limitless possibilities for NYU shone through.
NYU's heart is stronger and bigger today because he was among us for so long—but it just won't beat quite the same without him."
Executive Director of the George H. Heyman, Jr. Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at NYU
"To me Jay was a professional friend and a personal friend. I spent 25 years working with him every single day. He had great humor and was brilliant. He was a marvelous teacher of Russian history. I attended some of his classes and found them fascinating. His books on Catherine the Great and Peter the Great are first rate. I lost a very dear friend and the University lost a great leader."
Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
"I have so many fond memories, it's incredibly difficult to pick just one. The most unique are those associated with tap dancing lessons that I gave him in preparation for a University tribute to Jerry Herman and some rising stars of musical theater around the year 2000. (His son, Edward, would joke with me that all of the practicing Dr. Oliva was doing at home was driving everyone nuts!) While I shared with him a few tips on how to shuffle and ball change, he shared with me lessons about hard work, dedication, belief in one's self, and loyalty. He was a mentor and a dear friend and I'm confident my life has been profoundly impacted as a result."
Senior Director, Technical Services
Faculty of Arts and Sciences
"My memory of Jay Oliva goes back to the mid 1960s, a time of student unrest. Jay was one of the few in the University family that students had full trust in. On any given day as you walked through the Heights campus grounds and saw a student gathering, Jay would usually be in the center helping students through some hard times. He was truly loved and respected by the student body. Like others, I will miss him."
Assistant Provost for Academic Program Review
"What sticks with me the most was his commitment to students, whether in his continuing to teach despite his administrative burdens, or the partisanship of his rooting for NYU athletic teams, or the enthusiasm of his participation in theatrical and musical events."
Executive Director, Student Resource Center
"I'll always remember being bestowed with a baseball cap and the honor of being asked to sit 'Under the Hoop' during an NYU basketball game when I started here NYU back in 1993. A group of Student Life administrators were asked to help build spirit at an NYU game against Carnegie Mellon. So, naturally, we showed up with hollowed out watermelons on our heads."